Saturday, October 27, 2012

Church marketing in the 21st century

As part of my efforts to help my church improve its WWW presence, I went looking at what some other parishes in our diocese do. (A bit off-topic for this blog, but hopefully of interest to readers).

Looking at the content of pages I found some obvious suspects — Drupal, WordPress, even LightCMS. And then I found a company, Clover, that has its own content management system and specializes in church websites, and a couple of competitors who bought Google AdWords for anyone interested in that company.

Here is how they compare:
The first two have very fair, all-inclusive pricing. I even found an article in ChurchMag (and a follow up) comparing Clover and Bridge Element. Alas, the review lists both as "Flash-based" — so 2000s and by now obsolete in this world of iPhones and other portable devices.

Interesting, in doing another google search, FaithConnector bought another ad that says: “Flash no longer on mobile devices? No problem for us. We're HTML5.” That's convincing for me, but not enough to pay twice as much every month.

Another google search brought two more candidates
  •, $995 up front, $45+/month, but then they nickel and dime you for other features (such as "mobile site"). However, it seems to include other features like an integrated email newsletter and event management modules which seem like they would be important for many churches.
  •, $700 up front, $39+/month
It sees like the tools have come a long way since I set my (ECUSA) church's first website in 1998. I've also learned a lot about websites in the past decade, so I would look for
  • easy content update: this is essential, as websites are run by volunteers (or even the rector) with limited amounts of time
  • non-technical interface: this is probably the only website this volunteer does, unlike an ISP or company where the maintainer can come up to speed on Drupal, Joomla, Plone
  • easy changes to layout: some CMS seem to force you to have a particular layout, but maybe you need to tweak your layout to put a larger sidebar logo or header picture
  • automatic publishing/rolloff: I don't know how many times I’ve looked at a site in January that still lists the Christmas service times — because taking down the old content is not the most important thing we have to do on Dec. 26.
  • automatic support for mobile devices — which don’t have a mouse for navigating complex menus, may have a small screen (as small as 320x480) and certainly don’t want to mess with flash (even if it’s installed)
  • good hosting and support options
I think the latter is the strength and weakness of these dedicated church hosting companies. The strength is that they do everything; the weakness is that you can’t migrate your hosting to another ISP. But frankly, the latter seems unlikely — instead, you're just going to create a new site from scratch, as every organization seems to do every 3-6 years.

Presumably most of these will do Google Analytics or similar for website tracking. Some probably integrate directly (as do WordPress or Joomla) while for others you need to be able to add HTML to the header or template.

One key question is whether the website includes things like email marketing, or whether the parish wants to integrate with a separate church management system — e.g. to do an email blast to all the members. I imagine this decision will be made already by most parishes, but I suppose (as at our current church) there are churches where the existing tools are weak and ready to be replaced.

I also need to investigate integration with social media: Facebook, Twitter, RSS — and perhaps LinkedIn or Google+. I tried to search the respective websites, but only one of the companies seemed to provide such integration — — although Clover seems to provide an RSS feed for many of their hosted sites. Since Facebook killed direct RSS feeds, I’ll have to explore some of the other options to see how this works.

I am guessing that where we’ll end up is have a committee make a list of requirements, sift through the various generic and church-specific packages and then take one out for a test spin. (Possibly including setting up a fake church page to prove that it will feed correctly).